This opportunity is now closed.

Funded PhD Opportunity

Graphene family materials as novel chronic wound therapeutics

Subjects: Biomedical Sciences and Engineering


The Problem:

Chronic wounds represent a serious health risk and a significant economic burden to the NHS. The majority of chronic wounds become infected within 6h by bacterial biofilm, resulting in prolonged inflammation and delayed healing. Biofilms are resistant to conventional antibiotic therapies and facilitate transfer of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes between bacteria, making chronic wounds very difficult to treat. There is clear need for novel therapeutics / treatment approaches that eradicate both biofilms and AMR transfer.

The innovative Solution:

We will develop several strategies to tackle this challenge. At first (i) well characterised pristine graphene and graphene oxide layers with controlled lateral dimensions and functional groups will be decorated with known antimicrobial and antibiofilm compounds and (ii) their antibacterial performance will be assessed. We have developed a novel polymer system which will enable (iii) the delivery of GFM to Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms enabling us to determine the effectiveness of this totally novel approach. Thirdly, we have established links with the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester, who will assist with (iv) biosafety assessment of the novel wound therapeutics developed here.

Research Excellence:

Carbon-based nanomaterials including graphene, graphene oxide and carbon nanotubes are important in a number of biological applications including biosensors, biomedical imaging and drug delivery.  Crucially, these compounds exhibit potent antimicrobial activities yet few attempts to translate their antimicrobial effects into novel therapies have been made, primarily due to lack of efficient technology for delivery of GFM to wounds, lack of understanding of their mode of action, and biosafety concerns. This project will address these specific questions and make a significant contribution to knowledge in terms of characterising antimicrobial GFM, combating antimicrobial resistance and ultimately delivering a potentially game-changing chronic wound treatment modality.

Interdisciplinarity of the Project:

The skills and experience required to deliver on this project are available in the Schools of Biomedical Science, Pharmacy and Engineering, confirming the true interdisciplinarity of this work. The project requires development of synthesis routes for production of GFM with controlled numbers of layers, sizes and functional groups, understanding of approaches by which GFM can be characterised, GFM biosafety, antimicrobial activity and the effect of different exfoliation and surface decoration approaches. It will be necessary to synthesise and load our novel polymers with GFM candidates to assess release kinetics and antimicrobial activity against nascent / established biofilms using our in-house biofilm assay.  We will also assess gene expression in treated / untreated biofilm to demonstrate that graphene-mediated physical killing does not increase in virulence trait (e.g. AMR transfer) expression.

Interdisciplinarity of the supervisor team:

The project requires interdisciplinary knowledge and collaboration across colloidal chemistry, material science, and life sciences. Ternan & Snelling (BMS): characterisation of novel antimicrobial materials, gene expression. Papakonstantinou (Eng) synthesis and physiochemical characterisation of GFM. McCarron (PPS): drug delivery /formulations expert. Consequently, interdisciplinary aspects in this project will stimulate advances in the related fields, developing new expertise for the ECR, and facilitating knowledge transfer between Faculties.

Other Project Specific Requirements

Candidates should have or be about to obtain a primary degree in life sciences, pharmacy or engineering.  Knowledge of microbiology and formulation science would be desirable. Candidates should present clear motivation to undertake interdisciplinary research, and it would be advantageous to have previous experience of working on interdisciplinary projects.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area


    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to:

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Profile picture of Kieran O'Donnell

My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Profile picture of Michelle Clements Clements

Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Profile picture of William Crowe

Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe

Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
9 to 20 March


Apply Online  


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
The feeling of community at our Coleraine campus makes for a warm and welcoming student experience.

Contact supervisor

Dr Nigel Ternan

Other supervisors

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